Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Review: OnExamination by BMJ - First Year

As a medic fresher, there is lots of noise when it comes to paid resources for medical school. I was recommended OnExamination (BMJ) by a third year so I thought I'd write a review of my experience.

There are 639 questions for Year 1 (at the time of writing). BMJ claim they are written by doctors but I scored quite high initially and was asked if I would write for the question bank, so I take that with a pinch of salt. I only spotted one error in the answers. Most are detailed with external links for extra information. They also often explain why each answer is not possible (which I love). Some responses are pulled just from wikipedia, even diagrams borrowed. This can be slightly frustrating, considering you’ve paid for the material.
My curriculum was well covered by the content, although there were a few “very hard” questions that went into really specific detail on certain topics that I imagine are covered at other schools. The balance of difficulty is good. I am personally happy with the content and it definitely prepared me for end of years.

Basic layout with questions taking centre stage and extras on the right hand side. After each questions is completed, you are show the answer, an explanation and the chance to add some notes. You also have an on-going analysis of how you are doing (carrot and stick to keep me focused). Once done you can review questions you got wrong, straight away. Combined with the AdaptforMe function and you have some form of spaced repetition review, similar to Anki and Mnemosyne.

Choosing Your Questions
Work Smart or Work Hard. If you just want to rote work through 600+ questions, then pick Work Hard. I chose Work Smart. This allows you to customise question type, difficulty, seen/unseen, number etc. BMJ promote AdaptforMe, a form of repetition spaced review. I found this to be really useful, although it did have a few teething issues. I would sometimes see the same questions repeatedly (like three times a day) until I hide seen questions from the process. But this would defeat the point of reviewing previous seen questions.
Unfortunately, you can mark individual questions that you definitely know and want to remove from review. Also once you start the questions, you can’t move backwards and change your answers. An odd design. You can also create mock exams when you are comfortable with the material.
Overall, the flexibility in choosing questions is good and helps your revision process. However in future updates I’d like you to be able to rate individual questions on their difficult to alter their appearance in review.

General results - not intuitive to find after a round of questions but does show a bell graph and where you lie compared to fellow medical students. A range of means are given to provide an estimate of how you’ll do in the actual exam. It asked for my exam date but I don’t know why. Nothing came of it.
Curricula results - The review process also identifies broad subject areas that you are weak in. It is a good indicator of where to target revision and I found to be very accurate. My weakness in physiology was reflected in the breakdown.
Day-to-day analysis - Does what it says on the tin.
Learning Journal - This allows you to access your revision notes that you have attached to particular questions. It’s also a complete history of every question you’ve attempted.

There is support for both iPad and iOS. These have reduced function compared to desktop. You also have to download questions in advance if you want offline review. Neither of the apps crashed on me though or had any errors.

Year 1 Medical Student
3 months - £20 (I choose this)
6 months - £26
12 months - £32

They also offer Year 2, 3 and Finals. These are more expensive (see website).

Good coverage of the curriculum with varying difficulty. For £20, I started revising three weeks before my end of year exams. I covered 30 questions a day, completing all 600+ questions with time for some mock exams. I’m not sure how it would work out, if it was integrated with lectures. I’m inclined to try next year because it definitely helped with my exams and was really useful to try questions I’d never seen at medical school e.g. past papers.


  1. Hi,
    Good to see you blogging again :)

    do you think its worth subscribing to this from the beginning of the year, or would it be better used (as you did) as a tool for end of year exams?

  2. Thanks. It's good to be back.

    I would recommend it for exam revision. The smallest slot you can buy is 3 months which is perfect. In hindsight I would have given myself more time to review. I don't think this tool is great for the beginning of the year when you are learning for the first time, but as a review mechanism to test weak areas it really helps.

  3. Thanks for the comments.

    We aim to continually improve our resource to help medical students reach their full potential. We will use your feedback to make our service even better for students.


    Dr Matt Morgan
    Lead Editor, onExamination